Original Urdu published in Al Fazl on 12 June 1928
Before Islam, the conduct of the world towards this one half of mankind is still preserved in the pages of the history. Pondering over the history of various nations, traditions of different faiths and religious doctrines, this reality becomes evident that not a single nation or religion established such a status for women which they deserved and it was only established by the pure teachings of the Holy Prophetsa.
Today, when a period of more than 13 centuries have passed since the spread of the teachings of the Holy Prophetsa in the world, followers of different faiths, while existing side by side with Muslims, have observed the Islamic mode of life and culture. Every religion in its own circle claims to be the bestower of supreme status to the women and actively tries hard to do it, but the reality remains that all these efforts were inspired by the teachings of the Holy Prophetsa of Arabia, who supported this vulnerable and oppressed being 1,300 years ago. Otherwise, their own religious books have no mention of these teachings.
Although, I have to mention the favours of the greatest benefactor, my beloved Prophet Muhammadsa on this occasion, in order to shed more light on the attributes of his blessed teachings, I present some teachings of various other religions as a sample:
Status of women in Arabia
What was the condition of women in Arabia before Islam? In response, it should suffice to say that as a wife, she was like a property to the husband, which was transferred as inheritance. A single man could marry as many women as he desired. The bond of marriage was so weak that divorce was given on trivial issues. As a daughter, she was worthy of being buried alive.
Status of women in Christianity
Although Christianity is famous for its kindness and compassion, it has not done any favours towards womankind. It is said that Jesusas gave precedence to celibacy over marriage and in fact hailed it as the means for entering into the heavenly empire and it is said that he himself remained single. Moreover, it is indicated from the Gospels that his behaviour towards his mother was also not very good.
It is for this reason that Christian noblemen always saw this oppressed class with disdain. Even today [in 1928], after a lot of reformation, women have no permanent status in Christian countries. Immediately after marriage, all of her property becomes the possession of her husband and she herself is left emptyhanded. Furthermore, she has no share in her father’s estate along with her brother. In fact, even if a single heir exists, she gets nothing from the inheritance.
Apart from this, religiously, she was considered the first sinner and the root cause of evil. It was because of her that mankind was rendered sinful. This is that belief which is the basis of hatred and scorn towards womankind by holy and staunch Christian noblemen.
Status of women in Hinduism
The condition of Hinduism is much worse, as it considers this vulnerable being to be absolutely unworthy of trust, who can never be trusted. The steadfastness of Rani Kausalya and the maxim of Sita Ji’s loyalty did not prove enough to minimise the untrustworthiness.
According to the doctrines of Hindus, marriage is the name of kanyadaan, i.e. giving charity and its acceptance. The wife is considered such a thing that is granted to the husband as a charity. Therefore, it is his lawful possession. Her status is that of a servant of the husband in the house. Her obligation is to serve the husband and his family, but she has no special rights.
If the husband passes away, then the wife should be burnt alive alongside him because her own life has no purpose. A woman is one of those things that has been created in the universe to fulfill the necessities and to serve for the comfort and well-being of mankind. A Hindu woman has no share in inheritance as well.
Regardless of being born in the era of progression and development, Arya Samajists consider wives to be such a possession of the husband that whenever he wills, wherever he desires and for as many days as he wishes, he can transfer it. According to the belief of Arya Samaj, a woman always possesses a sinful soul in her body because, as per the concept of reincarnation, the soul is given the medium of woman as a punishment of certain sins.
Hence, neither any religion nor any reformer made an effort to eradicate cruelty and unfair domination of the oppressed class of women and to liberate them from the oppression to which they were subjected.
There was only for the one and only holy personality, who was sent by God as “Rahmatun-lil-Alamin”, i.e. he was sent in the world as an absolute mercy for all mankind. His blessed personage was the sheer grace of God. His compassion and kindness rescued this creation from the pit of disgrace in which the mankind had thrown them. Their urusped rights were reinstated and their dignity and status, bestowed to them by their Creator, were re-established.
Status of women in Islam
The Holy Prophetsa made it clear that a woman is also a creation of God Almighty as is a man. They have the same status in humanity as that of men. They can also attain the delight of God Almighty and His nearness by following the same conditions set out for men. Their virtuous deeds are equally worthy of acceptance as that of men. The Holy Prophetsa said:
المراۃ اذا صلت خمسھا، وصامت شھرھا، واحصنت فرجھا۔ واطاعت بعلھا، فلتدخل من ای ابواب الجنۃ شاءت۔
A faithful chaste woman who abides by the commandments of the Shariah [divine law] can enter the paradise from whichever gate she pleases. It means that there is no specified rank for God Almighty’s nearness and spiritual advancement limited to men. According to their deeds, women can also achieve every rank.
The Holy Quran states:
وَ مَنۡ یَّعۡمَلۡ مِنَ الصّٰلِحٰتِ مِنۡ ذَکَرٍ اَوۡ اُنۡثٰی وَ ہُوَ مُؤۡمِنٌ فَاُولٰٓئِکَ یَدۡخُلُوۡنَ الۡجَنَّۃَ وَ لَا یُظۡلَمُوۡنَ نَقِیۡرًا
“And whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date stone.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.125)
In clear words, this verse gives glad tiding of equivalent reward to both men and women as a result of virtuous deeds. Islam has not established any distinction between men and women in matters of faith. The real purpose of a person’s life, i.e. the door of attaining God Almighty’s nearness and delight, is equally open to both.
The instructions laid down towards men for performing particular good deeds and prayers are equally directed to women as well. Those wrong deeds from which the men are prohibited, women are also barred from them. Neither are women deprived of any virtue or prayer, nor are men freed from any restrictions. Both of them are promised equal reward on virtuous deeds. In fact, in certain situations, considering the natural vulnerability of women, some relief has been given in the commandments, which cannot be elaborated in detail on this occasion.
Women as mothers
Almost every nation gives respect to women as mothers. However, the saying of the Holy Prophetsa in this regard stands out as well. The Holy Prophetsa said, “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.” The obedience and service towards the mother brings about Allah Almighty’s pleasure and draws a person near paradise. On the other hand, God is displeased if someone acts disrespectfully towards the mother and the person strays away from the rewards of God Almighty, even though his other deeds are good.
The Holy Quran draws the attention of mankind towards the rights of parents in the following words:
وَ بِالۡوَالِدَیۡنِ اِحۡسَانًا ؕ اِمَّا یَبۡلُغَنَّ عِنۡدَکَ الۡکِبَرَ اَحَدُہُمَاۤ اَوۡ کِلٰہُمَا فَلَا تَقُلۡ لَّہُمَاۤ اُفٍّ وَّ لَا تَنۡہَرۡہُمَا وَ قُلۡ لَّہُمَا قَوۡلًا کَرِیۡمًا۔ وَ اخۡفِضۡ لَہُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحۡمَۃِ وَ قُلۡ رَّبِّ ارۡحَمۡہُمَا کَمَا رَبَّیٰنِیۡ صَغِیۡرًا
“And show kindness to parents. If one of them attain old age with thee or both of them, never say unto them any word expressive of disgust nor reproach them, but always address them with excellent speech. And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness. And say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me in my childhood.’” (Surah Bani Israil, Ch.17: V.24-25)
How pure a teaching it is! Not only should you treat your aged parents with kindness, but you should also pray before Allah Almighty to shower mercy upon them. Here, if the rights of the mother are not more, then they are no less than the father as well. The instruction to pray for the parents before God Almighty is an attribute which is only peculiar to Islam.
Women as wives
The most important, yet the most oppressed state of women is that which is called by the name of “wife”. It is for this reason that the greatest benefactor of womankind, the Holy Prophetsa had to lay special emphasis on kind treatment towards wives. The Holy Prophetsa said:
خيركم خيركم لأھله، وأنا خيركم لأھلی
“The best of you is the one whose treatment towards his wife is the best and my conduct towards my wives is the best from among you.”
The saying is captivating and encourages kind treatment. It is a great truth which manifests the status and dignity of wives in its entirety. Acting kindly towards one’s wife is declared a standard of virtue.
When somebody enquired about the rights of a wife from the Holy Prophetsa, he said, “Whatever you eat, you should give her to eat as well. When you wear new clothes, make them for her as well. Never hit her on the face. Never say a bad word to her. Never separate from her.”
Indeed, he explained that the way husband stays within the house, it is necessary to keep the wife in the same condition. It is not permissible for one to live in a good condition and keep their wife in a bad state. One should not insult and humiliate her. If, owing to calm a situation or for any other settlement, you have to separate, then you can do that while staying within the four walls of the house. So that no harm is done to the overall love and affection in the household, separation for reconciliation does not become the source of hatred.
Regarding the rights of the wife, the Holy Quran states:
وَ لَہُنَّ مِثۡلُ الَّذِیۡ عَلَیۡہِنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ
“And they [the wives] have rights similar to those [of husbands] over them in equity.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.229)
All religions have emphasised over the rights of husbands, but the rights of wives are thrown behind their backs. It is only Islam which states that it is not only that husbands have rights over the wives, but wives also have rights over husbands. As you expect the fulfilment of your rights, their rights should be fulfilled also.
Then, the Holy Quran states about the relationship of a husband and wife:
وَ جَعَلَ بَیۡنَکُمۡ مَّوَدَّۃً وَّ رَحۡمَۃً
“He has put love and tenderness between you” (Surah al-Rum, Ch.30: V.22). This means that there should be a connection of love and affection between husband and wife.
At another place, the Holy Quran states:
وَ عَاشِرُوۡہُنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ ۚ فَاِنۡ کَرِہۡتُمُوۡہُنَّ فَعَسٰۤی اَنۡ تَکۡرَہُوۡا شَیۡئًا وَّ یَجۡعَلَ اللّٰہُ فِیۡہِ خَیۡرًا کَثِیۡرًا
“And consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.20)
Glory be to God! How beautifully has the emphasis been laid on kind social conduct! It is quite possible that you dislike your wife for a certain reason, but even in these circumstances, you should not act unkindly towards her. Who knows the underlying philosophies of God Almighty’s wisdom? What do you know? It is possible that there are many positives hidden in it.
Have faith in the graciousness and blessings of Allah Almighty and under His directions, behave kindly, even if you dislike a thing. If you do so, Allah Almighty shall place goodness and blessings in it. Is there any other religious book in the whole world which emphasises such kind treatment towards wives?
The Holy Prophetsa was so concerned about the rights of women that in the last sermon which he delivered on the occasion of Hajj at Arafat, he addressed the Muslims in the following manner:
“O people! Some rights of yours are due upon women and some rights of theirs are due upon you. Act mercifully towards your wives. You have married them believing in God to be Omnipresent and Omniscient, and they have been made lawful for you under the directions of God Almighty. Hence, you have offered them protection under the obligation of God Almighty.”
Even in his last will, our beneficent Prophetsa was concerned about our prosperity and progress. He drew attention towards the rights of women in the best possible way and stressed upon behaving kindly towards them. O Allah, shower peace, blessings and bounties upon Muhammadsa.
Women as daughters
Not only did the Holy Prophetsa declare the cruel practice of burying daughters alive forbidden, he laid emphasis on behaving compassionately and affectionately towards daughters also. Hence, he said, “Should I not tell you that there is no better charity than looking after your daughter when she comes to you and no other person in the world cares for her except you.”
How beautifully has the Holy Prophetsa highlighted that if your daughter becomes worthy of help, you must assist her. Aiding her in this condition is the best of virtues.
On one occasion, the Holy Prophetsa said, “The person who is blessed with daughters and treats them kindly, the same daughters will veil them from the fire of hell.”
Furthermore, he said, “Whosoever looks after his daughters, he and I will be like this in the Hereafter”, and he joined two of his fingers, meaning that the Prophetsa and such a person would be together.
In the present age, conditions have changed a lot, but the person who ponders over the circumstances 13 centuries ago can very easily realise the significance of the Holy Prophet’ssa instructions. The being who was considered a calamity by her mother and a disgrace by her father, the Prophetsa established her love in the hearts of parents. Moreover, he expressed that daughters equally deserves our kindness and affection as sons do.
General rights of women
The Holy Prophetsa said, “Fear God Almighty with respect to [the rights] of women and orphans.” As both are weak classes [of society], therefore he put emphasis not to deprive them from their rights owing to their weakness and whilst fearing God, their due rights should be given. If one fails to do so, God Almighty shall hold them accountable.
All nations deprived women from the rights of inheritance. It was only Islam that recognised the right of inheritance for women. Allah the Almighty states:
لِلرِّجَالِ نَصِیۡبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَکَ الۡوَالِدٰنِ وَ الۡاَقۡرَبُوۡنَ ۪ وَ لِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِیۡبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَکَ الۡوَالِدٰنِ وَ الۡاَقۡرَبُوۡنَ مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنۡہُ اَوۡ کَثُرَ ؕ نَصِیۡبًا مَّفۡرُوۡضًا
“For men is a share of that which parents and near relations leave; and for women is a share of that which parents and near relations leave, whether it be little or much a determined share.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.8)
A Muslim woman is heir to the estate of her parents and relatives, similar to that of a man. Moreover, she is the owner of her own property, upon which neither her husband, nor any other relative has any right of possession. Hence, Allah the Almighty states:
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا یَحِلُّ لَکُمۡ اَنۡ تَرِثُوا النِّسَآءَ کَرۡہًا
“O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.20)
A wife can buy and sell her property in accordance with her wishes and she has absolute control over the gains received.
Another right of a Muslim woman is the dowry, which is settled on the occasion of Nikah, according to the status of the husband. Its dispensation is incumbent on the husband. This is the protection of women’s rights and it is for those needs of women which are not compulsory for the husband to fulfill.
Ponder over all the rights of women which have been presented as a model. Has any other religion or any other guide and reformer supported this being in this way? Have they granted such high worldly and religious status and honour? Has any other human being stressed and strived for protecting her lawful rights? Certainly not!
It was only the blessed personage of Rahmatun-lil-Alamin who yearned for the prosperity and progress of women and who endeavoured for them to the fullest possible extent. Hence, how much worthy of respect, honour and love is that holy personality who is our greatest benefactor beneath the skies! Peace, blessings and bounties of Allah be upon him.